Sunday , June 24, 2018

Wenceslao: Sasot in Summit

THE plan was obvious when the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) started accrediting bloggers to cover Malacañang aside from representatives of traditional media outlets. I like the phrase used by a reporter of a Manila media outlet for it: to control the narrative. The Duterte administration couldn’t control traditional media, so it trained its eyes on social media.

I do like the idea of recognizing social media because, whether we like it or not, its presence can no longer be ignored. The media landscape is no longer the exclusive domain of mainstream journalists and broadcasters. That can’t be done on the fly but should be a product of a deep study. Who are to be accredited and what are the guidelines? The rules should be clear or chaos would ensue.

I am particular, for example, about conduct, after all, traditional media workers have been guided by an ethical code refined through the decades. That doesn’t seem to bother the PCOO. In August this year, PCOO head Martin Andanar issued an obviously rushed “Interim Social Media Practitioner Accreditation.”

It described social media as “a person that maintains a publicly accessible social media page, blog or website, which generates content and whose principal advocacy is the regular dissemination of original news and/or opinion of interest.” Nowhere were worlds like “objectivity,” “fairness,” “decency,” etc. were mentioned. And it stressed on numbers: at least 5,000 followers on any social media platform.

The move was apparently meant to allow the entry of the so-called DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters) who are dominant in social media not necessarily for their grasp of media norms and values but for the partisanship in their discourse. For them, the ends justifies the means, and not the other way around. Thus, they have often been guilty of vulgarity and the use of fake news.

When DDS blogger Sass Rogando Sasot, accompanied by PCOO Assistant Secretary Margaux Uson, made a scene at the designated International Media Center for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, that was a product of PCOO’s social media accreditation scheme. Sasot confronted a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) reporter for another issue.

Sasot’s act showed how tricky it is to allow social media practitioners that can be described as, to use a Cebuano term, “way tahal,” to do what legitimate journalists and broadcasters have been doing through the decades. Bloggers that can be partisan and vulgar can’t be expected to act decently and objectively during coverages. Consider, for example, that what got Sasot ranting at Jonathan Head was the recent BBC interview of an anti-Duterte blogger.

And conduct is just one aspect of the attempt by the Duterte administration to engage social media. The other should be output. What, for example, has bloggers to show for joining coverage of major events? What kind of stories did they churn in their blog or website? Were they able to digest the meat of the talks? How objective and fair were they in their reports on the activities?